Nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of women working in higher education believe that men have a better chance of attaining leadership roles, according to a report that highlights the “ongoing battle” of gender inequality in the sector.
The study from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education also found that just 35 per cent of women believe that they have equal opportunities for promotion and receive equal respect in the workplace compared with men.
The report, Onwards and Upwards? Tracking Women’s Work Experiences in Higher Education, suggested that this was not a result of women’s lack of self-esteem, with 81 per cent of women agreeing that they felt confident putting themselves forward for positions of responsibility at work.
One of the women interviewed as part of the study said: “There’s a lot of misogyny here. One of the supervisors was heard to say that there were too many women here now. So it’s an ongoing battle.”
The research, conducted by academics at Loughborough University, documents the first year of a longitudinal study tracking the careers, experiences and aspirations of women working in higher education over five years. It is based on data collected from more than 1,500 women in higher education in the UK and the Republic of Ireland between April 2015 and March 2016.
More than two-thirds of respondents said that they had applied for a job move unsuccessfully at least once, and nearly one in five had done so four times or more.
Specifically regarding unsuccessful promotion applications, nearly half had experienced at least one and more than 11 per cent had tried and failed at least four times.
Despite making up 45 per cent of the workforce in the 2013-14 academic year, only 20 per cent of vice-chancellors or principals, 30 per cent of heads of major academic areas and 22 per cent of professors were women.
Participants included 1,270 women taking part in Aurora, the foundation’s female leadership development programme, and 306 “comparison” women. The majority (57 per cent) were academics, with the rest working in professional services.
The report found that professional staff were consistently less negative than academics about workplace culture and practices, particularly regarding opportunities for women.
The study also included interviews with 10 Aurora participants and four mentors.
One of the interviewees said that she was “keen to do well at work” but sometimes felt “conflicted between protecting my job and challenging bad practice”.
“I have been quite shocked at some of the decision-making practices and sexism within my institution,” she said.
Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development at the foundation, said that the study shows that not only is higher education “failing to embrace diversity”, but there is a “clear danger of institutions losing talent”.